Members of the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band work on a tune during a Band Camp session last Thursday morning at Chamber Field. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

When the Houston High School Tiger Pride Marching Band takes the field in Tiger Stadium at halftime of the first football home game of the season on Sept. 16, fans in attendance will notice something different about the band’s performance.

The custom-written show will be titled, “A Place I Know,” and the music being played will have a folksy, Ozarks flare. 

“I’ve had the idea for a long time,” said Houston Schools band director Sam Van Dielen, “that we should take the marching band and totally do a love letter to the Ozarks.”

To make it happen, Van Dielen obtained music for four public domain songs, including “New World Symphony” (by Antonin Dvorak), “In the Shadow of the Pines” (recorded in Ava in the 1970s), “Down in the Valley” (an old Kentucky folk song) and “Arkansas Traveler” (an 1800s tune popularized by American singer and guitarist Mose Case).

“The goal of the show is to create an elegant medley of these four tunes,” Van Dielen said, “where we continually flow from one to the next and riff on themes like work, play and worship. I think it’s important for the people in this community to see the marching band doing things that are relevant to them and symbolize this area, and I think the kids know that.”

Under Van Dielen’s direction, members of the band have been practicing for this year’s marching season in the annual Band Camp, which began Aug. 1 and concludes Friday (Aug. 12). There are 37 students on the band’s roster this year, including 21 upperclassmen (10 seniors and 11 juniors) and 16 underclassmen (three sophomores, nine freshmen and three eighth-graders). 

As band director Sam Van Dielen listens at left, the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band plays a portion of its 2022 football halftime show during a band camp session last Thursday morning at Chamber Field.

“We’re seeing a larger color guard,” Van Dielen said, “and we’re seeing more percussionists and young members, which is great.”

Van Dielen is in his third year as the Houston School District’s director of bands. He said that the level of experience on this year’s roster has led to the band being somewhat farther along at this point on the calendar.

“The main reason things are going so well this year is that a lot of these kids remember last year,” Van Dielen said. “They remember their training and they remember the end goal because they’ve already done this. And these kids are such hard-working individuals and they all have an exemplary work ethic.”

Every student who’s in band this year has played under Van Dielen for at least two years. 

“With me as their director, they’ve kind of been brought up in this culture of detail and discipline,” he said.

This year, Van Dielen was joined at band camp three assistants with significant marching band experience: Percussion director Tyrese Vanderkuur, color guard instructor Beth Tapen and band movement specialist Matt Blaser. 

HHS Band Camp featured four instructors this year. From left, band movement specialist Matt Blaser, percussion director Tyrese Vanderkuur, Houston Schools band director Sam Van Dielen and color guard instructor Beth Tapen.

Vanderkuur and Tapen are both paid employees of the Houston School District, while Blaser is a friend of Van Dielen’s and has worked alongside him in the past, and was here on a volunteer basis. Having an actual staff has helped promote a team atmosphere, Van Dielen said.

“Our school district and Superintendent Dr. Justin Copley have really legitimized our program,” he said. “All of the administrators recognized what needed to be done to elevate the students’ experiences, and it’s really paying big dividends.

“And at the end of the day, it’s all about the students.”

Blaser began a lengthy connection with marching band as a fifth-grader and continued through high school and during his college years at Creighton University (in Omaha, Neb). He met Van Dielen several years ago while touring with the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps (a youth organization based in Dubuque, Iowa).

Blaser (who is preparing to enter law school at the University of Nebraska) designed the visual component of the HHS band’s new show and oversaw the practicing of it during Band Camp.

“The students here work very hard and are very attentive,” he said. “They really are a pleasure to work with; there’s something to be said about the work ethic that’s instilled down here, and this has been a very enjoyable experience for me.”

A Rolla resident, Vanderkuur is in his fourth year working with the HHS band. He first sat down at a drum set at the age of 6, played on the drum line in high school and even marched professionally after that.

Tiger Pride Band percussion director Tyrese Vanderkuur works with students during a Band Camp session last week.

“There’s really a nitty-gritty aspect to this group,” Vanderkuur said. “They really love to work and they love perfection. If it’s not perfect, they’re not taking it – and I love that.

“And we’re about two weeks ahead of where we were at this time last year. We’re moving, and I think we’re going to do some great things.”

Tapen is a senior and education major at Missouri State University in Springfield and is a member of the school’s color guard program under coach John Sullivan. She began participating in color guard as an eighth-grader and continued while in high school at Belleville, Ill. 

HHS band color guard director Beth Tapen demonstrates a move during a band camp session last Thursday morning at Chamber Field.

Van Dielen reached out to MSU officials in search of a color guard instructor, and Tapen was recommended. She began duties in Houston in May.

“Now that she’s here,” Van Dielen said, “we have this focus and competence that I’ve never seen in color guard.”

There are seven students in the HHS Band’s color guard, up from four last year.

“I am so proud and so impressed with what I’m seeing here,” Tapen said. “The students are ahead of schedule with my lesson plan, and they’re picking up things very quickly.

“They have a real drive this year.”

Tapen might help launch a “winter guard” program is Houston, which would bring a whole new look to games contested in the New Gym.

The Tiger Pride Marching Band had significant success during the last school year, garnering many awards and earning some in almost every possible category. The ensemble will perform “A Place I Know” in competitions at band festivals this October in Warsaw, Branson and Reeds Spring, as well as a practice event at Nixa in September.

“When we take the show to those places, every person in the audience will know it applies to them and speaks to them in some way,” Van Dielen said.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the band will host its annual “Ice Cream Social” beginning at 7 p.m. on the lawn adjacent to Hiett Gymnasium. During the event, treats will be available to purchase, as well as tickets for the Houston Community Night at a Springfield Cardinals game on Sept. 10.

The night will be highlighted by the band’s debut performance of its 2022 show music, beginning around 7:45 p.m. 

Color guard director Beth Tapen works with members of the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band color guard during a band camp session last Thursday morning at Chamber Field.

“There are so many things going into what should be an incredible season for us,” Van Dielen said. “Usually, it takes years and years to get the things we have now – like a staff and a custom-written show – and I’m stunned that we have an environment here where we got it all in only a couple of years.

“This band has gone through a drastic transformation in a very short time, and I’m honored to be a part of it. But none of this would work if the administrators weren’t the people they are and if the students weren’t the people they are and the parents weren’t the people they are.

“It takes a village, and we’ve paid in so much over the past couple of years that we’re able to make withdrawals pretty quickly.”

Senior clarinet player Hunter Swingle figures everyone who sees the HHS Band perform this year will come away satisfied.

“I think we have great instructors and the kids have a really big drive and work together really well,” Swingle said. “I think people will be surprised when they see us; they can expect a lot more from our first show than in the past.”

Alumni Band performance set for Sept. 24

The Houston High School Tiger Pride Marching Band will host an Alumni Band event on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The HHS football team will face Thayer that day in Tiger Stadium, with kick-off set for 1 p.m.

Band director Sam Van Dielen said check-in for the Alumni Band’s halftime performance will begin at 9:30 a.m.

“We have some options for borrowing an instrument,” Van Dielen said, “and we will lead the alumni and current Tiger Pride Band though a few pep tunes, classic and current.”

There will be a reception afterward at Piney River Brewing, and brunch and a T-shirt are included.

More information can be found online at, and on Facebook at

Email Van Dielen at



Aubrey Crockett: Drum Major

Nicholas Cope: Percussion – snare

Andy Durham: Percussion – piano

Daniel Eastman: Percussion – marimba

Carl Fitzgerald: Percussion – auxiliary

Max Bittle: Trombone

Hunter Swingle: Clarinet

Joey Bratt: Color guard

Zander Scholz: Tenor saxophone

Tyler Lawson: Trumpet


Brysen Frisbee: Percussion – tenor drums

Williem McConnell: Tuba

Ethan Buckner: Trumpet

Abby Hutchison: Clarinet

Isabella Bourgoin: Color guard

Miah Bressie: Color guard

Lena Skaggs: Alto saxophone

Ian Young: Trombone

Stone Jackson: Trumpet

Michael Sloniker: Trumpet

Owen Swingle: Mellophone


Alexandria Benoist: Color guard

Kaytlin Morgan-Flowers: Color guard

Hayden Riggs: Flute

Andrew Rife: Trumpet


Laken Peede: Clarinet

Olivia Ice: Clarinet

Jazmine Mitchell: Color guard

Aralyn Walkup: Color guard

Brian Sumpter: Percussion – keyboards

Jack Sandberg: Alto saxophone

Noah Johnson: Tenor saxophone

Tyler Kelly: Trombone

Victoria Fulbright: Tuba


Christian Royer: Percussion – bass

Cason Woolsey: Percussion – bass

Ty Bratt: Trumpet/mellophone

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

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